Guide to Disability Friendly Cities (List of 22 Around the World)

Walkable cities are great for families and senior citizens, but disability friendly cities are great for everyone. Areas that have good sidewalks with wheelchair access are important qualities. However, there are quite a few more qualities that make a city good for the disabled. The weather needs to be looked at because extreme temperatures or lots of rain and snow can be a major obstacle to those trying to get around in a wheelchair. It is also essential to take into account the air quality, accessible fitness centers, physicians, rehab centers, and transit options

It is also a plus, if the disabled in the city are quickly able to find a job and keep that job as well. Cities that have modern buildings also do better because it is easier to upgrade a new building to provide handicap access.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of 22 disability friendly cities:

1. Albuquerque, N.M.

Great weather is a primary reason for this city being chosen, with highs in the 50s and 60s in the winter and moderate weather in the summer. The monsoon season that starts around July cools off what would be a blistering summer. It is also home to the prestigious University of New Mexico Hospital, which is known for its innovative procedures. They have a great transit system that includes modern rail and rapid bus service. They also give discounted fares to the disabled and provide SunVan service to any destination in the city.

2. Lubbock, Texas

This city has a modern transit system and they recently switched to hybrid buses that are equipped to accommodate large wheelchairs. The weather is near perfect with average highs of 60 degrees in the middle of winter. The city itself is quite sprawled out, but the nice climate and good bus system help to counteract that.

3. Winston-Salem, N.C.

Usually if a city is great for retired folks, it will be great for those with disabilities. Winston-Salem proves this to be true because it attracts both sides of the spectrum. This is due to its impressive health care system, with the Novant Health Facilities and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center located within the city. This area has grown more than 50% since 1990 and has plenty of new construction that accommodates the disabled.

4. Orlando, Fla.

This is another one on the list that is home to its fair share of retirees, in fact this area is known for its older population. However, it is also great for the disabled because of its mild weather. Yes, there are hurricanes but its great weather balances that out. The modern wheelchair accessible construction combined with its wonderful transit system, and a huge healthcare network makes this one of the most disability friendly cities around. Plus, there is virtually an unlimited amount of entertainment in the area. The well-known amusement parks in the area are very disability friendly and most, if not all, areas of the parks are wheelchair accessible.

5. Chicago, Illinois

This is not a run-of-the-mill disability friendly city, with its old tall buildings and snowy, windy weather. The thing that draws those with handicaps to this area is the transit system, which has made almost all of its rail stations very accessible to the handicapped. They also offer a discounted fare to those in a wheelchair. This great city also has a broad healthcare system and the University of Illinois is creating a Healthy Community Mapping System. This system will track the handicapped accessibility of fitness centers, sidewalks, businesses, and more. The goal is to make them as convenient and easy to navigate as possible. It will tell users where the best areas are and let them know where there are going to be obstacles like a bad sidewalk or narrow door.

6. Portland, Ore.

This city has the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital, The Legacy Health System, and many other healthcare facilities to offer the disabled. This means there are plenty of different choices when it comes to getting great healthcare. The best thing about Portland is how easy it is to reach those facilities. The city has many different transit options including, bus, light rail, and even streetcars. All of which accommodate wheelchairs. However, the TriMet’s transportation system has a Lift service that provides riders with more than 250 minibuses and over a dozen cars that will take them anywhere in the city.

7. Denver, Co.

At one time in the past, Denver was an overgrown sprawling mess whose transit system was impossible for almost anyone to use. The good news is that this is no longer so. Now, the transit system has extended its rail and bus and made it wheelchair accessible as well. There is priority seating offered to those with handicaps and there is a well-run Access-a-ride program which will take wheelchair users anyplace that is within almost a mile radius of the transit system. There is also plenty to do in Denver, with its large bustling downtown that is handicap friendly as well.

8. Birmingham, Ala.

With temperatures in the 60s, the mild winter weather helped get this city on the list. Although, the great weather is not the only good thing about Birmingham, there is also a large variety of healthcare resources due to HealthSouth and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The best thing about the city is the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority. They operate more than 24 paratransit buses within the city.

9. Reno, Nev.

This vibrant city has long been known as “The Biggest Little City in the World”, and although it can get quite cold during the winter and is windy most of the year, it is also dry with very little rain to keep people from going out. They have wheelchair accessible buses and bus rapid transit systems that offer discounted fares for those with a disability. The access to a quality transit systems helps to make the city feel small. Plus they provide paratransit services within the city and to some outlying areas as well. Most of the casinos, shows, and restaurants are wheelchair accessible because the city has many tourists from all over the world. This is a place where one will never get bored, and besides the great nightlife, the city has many handicapped accessible parks to enjoy.

10. Seattle, WA.

Even with the boatloads of rain and hilly areas, this city easily makes this list because of its modern transit system. The city offers handicap accessible buses and light rail lines that are discounted to wheelchair users. There is also a paratransit van service that will take a user anywhere within the large city. There is a rideshare program for the handicapped and maps that show downtown routes that are accessible to those with disabilities This helps to make a notoriously tough city to get around in very easy to access. There are many modern buildings and facilities that are easy to navigate and there are plenty of healthcare facilities in the area.

11. Baltimore, MD.

This city gave birth to our national anthem and has a rich history that residents and visitors love, however, it is also accessible to those with handicaps as well. It is easy to enjoy the myriad of activities within the city, such as the Fort McHenry Nation Monument that offers an ample visitor’s center, handicap accessible outdoor activities and more. The transit system makes it easy to get around and offers discounts to those in a wheelchair. There are so many handicap friendly attractions like the National Aquarium, (known to be very wheelchair accessible), which has a huge collection of marine exhibits from all over the world. The aquarium has more than 660 different species and over 15,000 creatures within its walls. The Baltimore coast is also handicap friendly and as many places to shop, eat, and play.

12. Cheyenne, WY.

Cheyenne is the capital of Wyoming and has a fun, romantic Wild West feel to it. It also has the vibrant sophistication of a modern city. Situated on the northern area of the Rocky Mountains, this area offers stunning views. The climate is mild with an average summer high of only 80 degrees and the city enjoys around 327 days of sunshine. There is no state income tax which makes the cost of living manageable for those living on a fixed income. The transit provides safe and reliable transportation to those who are handicapped. There is a paratransit service in the city to help provide safe transit services to the disabled.

13. Tucson, AZ.

The lovely Sonora Desert Valley makes a beautiful backdrop to this handicap friendly city that is surrounded by five different mountain ranges. The lack of rain and average of 350 sunny days every year makes this area a haven for those with disabilities. There is more than 800 miles of paved paths that are handicap accessible for those who love to be out doors. This great city has more than 1,500 restaurants that are wheelchair accessible, which is perfect for those who enjoy a good meal.

14. Kenner, LA.

A quaint suburb of New Orleans, this city is more handicap friendly than its larger neighbor. The city has several museums, theaters, and a huge historic district called Rivertown that is located on the Mississippi River. All of the previous mentioned places are handicap accessible. There are numerous recreational facilities and the majority of the area’s handicapped are employed. The weather is great and almost all the local businesses offer handicapped parking and access.

15. New York City, NY.

This giant city has much to offer a person with disabilities, from its handicap friendly sidewalks to its transit system; this area is one of the best on the list. It is obvious that such a large city should have a lot to offer those with handicaps. It lives up to its expectations by offering a paratransit service and many different forms of transit with wheelchair access. The city is home to numerous world renowned museums, restaurants and business that all give easy access to the handicap. There are so many different types of people in this large city that those with a disability will not feel that they stand out. The area is home to many rehabilitation centers and specialist as well.

International Cities for those with Disabilities

The previous 15 cities were all in the United States, but what about those who chose to live or visit a city outside of America. They have some great choices as well. The following cities were chosen based on the original criteria such as air quality, transportation and hospitals.

16. Berlin, Germany

This famous city was chosen because it has a well-planned comprehensive disability policy that has heavily invested in turning the once divided city into a highly accessible and barrier-free environment for all. The city of Berlin has an impeccable transit system that is effortlessly accessible to all disable people. The entire city is invested in being fully accessible to those with handicaps. There is also a variety of attractions and tours for those with a disability. This is because Berlin gets, to a certain extent, a lot of attention for being a role model to other cities. Therefore much money is spent to make the city accessible as possible. The public transportation network consists of wheelchair accessible subways, trams, and buses. Almost all of the many theatres and museums are handicapped accessible, as well as many of the restaurants and bars. Due to the fact that Berlin caters to many tourists, the locals are very helpful to those with a disability.

17. Nantes, France

Nantes is located in beautiful West France on the Loire River which is only 31 miles from the Atlantic coast. This city has decided to take a full approach to design a city that is completely accessible to those with handicaps. They offer many different activities that are aimed at raising awareness of handicaps to make everyday life in the city easy for the disabled. This vibrant area has specifically trained architects and designers on how to set up and maintain areas for those in wheelchairs. This means that virtually every aspect of this city, from its many restaurants and museums to its convenient public transit system, is set up to accommodate numerous types of disabilities.

18. Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm was chosen because, for many years now, it has had an inclusive approach to the way it designs its architecture. It has a future plan called the “Vision Stockholm in 2030” that wishes to turn the city, which the central area consists of 30% water, into a fun city that is accessible to the handicapped. They are doing this by making all pedestrian crossings safe for those with disabilities. All public toilets and playground areas will be easily accessible to anyone with a disability. This makes Sweden the wave of the future.

19. Pamplona, Spain

This thrilling area, known for the Running of the Bulls, has also taken many steps to make an easy to get to urban environment. They have put into place a four-year plan that will renovate the local infrastructure to be more handicap accessible. This includes the old town area, where sidewalk pavement has already been lowered to make it easier for those with wheelchairs to access. They are revamping playgrounds and recreational areas to be accessible to the elderly and disabled. There are ramps, footbridges and elevators being installed throughout the city to offer solutions for the many uneven areas throughout the city.

20. Gdynia, Poland

This historic city is well-known for its continuous efforts to make the area’s public transit available to all. Almost all of its buses and more than half of it trollies are currently accessible to those with a disability. They are making more and more of them accessible every year and the city also has a unique information system that includes Braille signposts. Pylons and information boards are also easily accessible to those in wheelchairs. Most of the area’s restaurants and museums have handicapped parking and wide, automatic doors for the handicapped.

21. Bilbao, Spain

This is the second city in Spain on the list, and this one was chosen because of its information and communication technology (ICT) system. This system has been put in place to help those with disabilities. It includes a telephone services for those with hearing and speech issues, induction loops that help to eliminate loud background noises to improve city services to those with hearing problems, and a simultaneous translation terminal in all public offices.

22. Tallaght, Ireland

This last city on the list was chosen because of the wide-variety of modern services that the area has which improves the quality of life for those with disabilities. Tallaght has a 48-hour local repair service to quickly repair streets, sidewalks, pedestrian walkways, recycling facilities, libraries, information services and more. This means that the disabled always have access to streets and facilities without having to endure areas that are unkempt.

How to Choose a City

The previous cities where chosen for many different reasons, but most of them have many things in common. Most of the cities were chosen because of their medical facilities, weather and climate, as well as transportation systems. These are not the only disability friendly cities out there. In fact, there are many more cities that would be great for a disabled person. When choosing a city to move to or simply visit, look at for those with great medical care and an extensive list of healthcare facilities.
The more health resources a city has to offer, the safer and happier those with disabilities tend to be.

It is also a good idea to check out the climate of the prospective city. A city that is always snowy and cold may not be a good idea for someone in a wheelchair because the ice can be very dangerous. Sunny, warm, and dry cities usually make the best choice. Transportation is one of the most important things to look at when choosing a city. Areas that have virtually no transit options can make it hard for those with a disability to get around. For those who use their own car, it is a good idea to see if the city has handicapped parking for most buildings.

Almost any city can be a good choice if it has the basic necessities for those with handicaps!

Avatar for Reed Manuel About the author: Reed Manuel is a Blogger, hiker, and physically unique individual himself. DWD is his home base, where he shares ideas and research on assistive technologies.
1 comment… add one
  1. Thank for this great information!

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